We Hope for Better Things in Detroit

5/11/10

When I was young and growing up in the Detroit area, the city was a hotbed of innovation and industry like nowhere else in the United States. The automobile industry was in full swing, and for decades it was the engine of growth for our nation. Although the city—and the companies that helped make it great—have stumbled in recent years, I believe that Detroit can make a comeback. As the city’s motto declares: Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus—that is, “We hope for better things; it shall rise from the ashes.” I too hope for better things for Detroit, and I strongly believe the city and Detroit area can and will rise from the ashes.

Detroit is still the center of the American auto industry. We must keep this industry in Detroit, and the industry itself must focus on driving world-leading technology and innovation. We can out-innovate the Japanese, German, and other international automobile manufacturers if we put our minds and our capital investments behind the industry. Many U.S. companies that develop advanced technologies have proven this time and time again. The auto industry needs to step up to the challenge.

GM and Chrysler need to take a close look at Ford’s successful model and adopt many of the company’s practices. Ford continues to out-innovate the competition, and it has done so without taking government financial handouts. There are lessons to be learned here.

Detroit can’t make a comeback all by itself—it needs and will continue to need the help of the federal government for some time to come. President Barack Obama’s automotive task force was a step in the right direction, but more can be done.

The federal government needs to step in with far greater resources—both financial and human—to help the city get back on its feet. A combination of direct financial investments and tax credits could make the city an attractive place for technology companies to establish their headquarters.

The Michigan Film Office is finding success in promoting Detroit and the rest of the state as a new hotbed of filmmaking, sweetening the pot with a 40 percent refundable tax credit (and an extra 2 percent in Detroit and 134 other core communities) for filmmakers and generous production and location assistance. This initiative seems to be gaining traction. Why not provide high-tech companies with a similar incentive for locating in downtown Detroit?

Dr. J. Robert Beyster is the founder of Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), the largest employee-owned research and engineering company in the United States. Follow @

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